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EU Court Rules on Blocking Extradition to Poland

Poland’s Decimation of its Justice System Raises Fair Trial Concerns

People gather in front of the Supreme Court during a protest against the Supreme Court legislation in Warsaw, Poland, July 22, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

The EU Court of Justice today ruled that European courts can block extradition requests from Poland. It was right to rule as it did.

The reason? Poland’s purge of senior judges and its efforts to undermine the independence of its courts. This could endanger Polish citizens’ right to a fair trial – a value at the heart of the European Union.

In normal circumstances, extradition warrants between EU states are almost automatically executed due to agreement that EU states can trust each other’s justice systems. This type of cooperation between EU countries helps keep people in the EU safe. The new ruling indicates that Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has undermined this cooperation by decimating its judicial system.

Today’s ruling originated from an Irish High Court Justice’s decision to block the extradition of a Polish citizen wanted for drug trafficking in Poland. The judge cited doubts about a fair trial.

A decision to block an extradition must be based on a two part test: first the court should consider the evidence indicating that systemic problems in the requesting country’s court system could lead to a breach of someone’s fair trial right. Then it should determine whether there is a specific risk to the person in question.

While the EU court did not rule on whether Poland is capable of ensuring the right to a fair trial in any specific extradition case, it described as “particularly relevant” the Commission’s findings that Poland’s rule of law situation constitutes a real risk to EU values under article 7 of the EU Treaty.

Human Rights Watch has documented how Poland adopted a series of laws damaging judicial independence – including one forcing 1/3 of the Supreme Court’s judges to retire early and politicizing appointments. It has also granted the Minister of Justice, a political appointment, wide and unchecked powers.

Over the past week, the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities have seen thousands protesting the latest legislative move, which would make it easier to replace Supreme Court justices – including Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf who refused to step down. The newly passed bill would enforce her removal and end the stalemate between the court and Poland’s government. Polish President Andrzej Duda should not sign this latest bill into law.

The Polish government has paid scant lip service to EU concerns about its assault on the rule of law. Perhaps losing its ability to combat crime through cooperation with other EU states will wake it up to the consequences of its dangerous path.

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